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Social enterprises in Austria: Innovative, female, challenged during the pandemic


With the “Austrian Social Enterprise Monitor,” the Social Entrepreneurship Center (SEC) at WU Vienna presents a comprehensive study on the importance, influence, and financing of social enterprises.

Social enterprises use innovative approaches to assume responsibility for solving social problems. According to estimates by the SEC, there are at least 2,500 companies in Austria that are committed to these goals. The Austrian Social Enterprise Monitor is now systematically observing these companies, making their situation in Austria internationally comparable for the first time.

The key results:

  • More than half of social enterprises are start-ups: 51% were founded within the last ten years, and more than a third are still in an early stage of development.

  • Social enterprises address key societal challenges in the areas of health, social services, education, and the environment - and show a great willingness to innovate in the process: nearly 85% of start-ups are based on innovation and more than half use technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, apps, and platforms in their work.

  • Social enterprises are particularly important for the labor market: 51% of their managers are female and almost 80% of founding teams are all-female or mixed-gender. With a founder share of 46%, social enterprises leave behind commercially oriented startups as well as publicly traded and government-affiliated companies. More than half of the companies surveyed want to hire more employees in the next twelve months. They employ an average of 72 full-time employees, with a median of five full-time employees.

  • Social enterprises performed particularly well in the COVID 19 pandemic: 64% of the companies were able to help their target groups in the crisis by digitalizing services or developing new ones. At the same time, however, social enterprises were themselves economically affected by the pandemic: Only a quarter were able to report profits last year, and 21% even posted losses in the second year of the pandemic.

Lack of political support

The surveys show that Austrian social enterprises are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the political support for their activities: Only 7.4% are satisfied with the current level of government support. This is also a very low figure by international standards: compared with 13 other European countries for which international comparative data are available, Austria ranks eleventh, which is second to last.

“Complex funding structures, lack of funding from both the government and the private sector, insufficient public awareness and a lack of staff are the main difficulties Austrian social enterprises face,” says Peter Vandor, head of the WU Social Entrepreneurship Center and co-author of the study. “Now it would be important to further develop the financial and legal frameworks for social enterprises and to create a real policy strategy for social enterprises, like other countries already have. Some of this has already been announced in the federal government’s program and should now be implemented soon.”

About the method

The results of the Austrian Social Enterprise Monitor are based on a quantitative survey of 258 social enterprises, which was conducted as part of the European Social Enterprise Monitor in cooperation with over 50 international partner organizations, as well as a qualitative survey of 23 experts in Austria.

The Social Entrepreneurship Center (SEC)

Part of the Competence Center for Nonprofit Organizations and Social Entrepreneurship at WU Vienna, the SEC conducts research and teaches on new organizational forms at the intersection of social impact and entrepreneurship. The SEC acts as an academic contact at WU Vienna for social entrepreneurship and the various stakeholders. Support services it offers include the NGO Academy, MEGA Academy, and the Professional Master for Social Innovation Management degree program at WU’s Executive Academy. https://www.wu.ac.at/sec

Further information

Austrian Social Enterprise Monitor 2021/2022: Status quo und Potentiale von Sozialunternehmen in Österreich https://short.wu.ac.at/asem-studie

The SEC will introduce the Austrian Social Enterprise Monitor at an event on June 21, 2022, 6:30pm, in the WU Club Room. Journalists are welcome to attend using this informal sign-up link. 


Alexander Vieß
Research Communication
WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business)
Tel: + 43-1-31336-5478
Email: alexander.viess@wu.ac.at

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